Cathy Bouma of Tuahiwi Botanicals has been fascinated by herbs since she created her first herb garden as a teenager. Now she grows all the herbs that she uses in her botanical skincare products. She likes to share this knowledge in workshops that she runs from her rural property near Christchurch – in September she will be running “Grow Your Own Herb Garden” and in October “Eat Your Weeds”. She will also be at the Welder market in Christchurch in September.
What do you make?
I have a small herbal farm where I grow all the herbs and flowers that I use in my botanical skincare. I make herbal oils, salves, and creams. I also make deodorants, facial oils, perfume oils, body oils and beard oils.
How did you get into your craft?
I have always loved herbs – I grew my first herb garden when I was in my teens. After we moved onto a lifestyle block, I then had the space and opportunity to follow this passion.
Do you have formal training or qualifications in your craft?
I have completed an apprenticeship in herbal medicine with Valmai Becker at Phytofarm and I have a diploma in botanical skincare. These are my “formal” qualifications but mostly I have learnt through doing – spending lots of time finding out what works and discarding what doesn’t work.
Your favourite materials, tools and processes?
My favourite materials at the moment are my herbal powders. I dry flowers and herbs, then make them into powders which I use in my workshops and products. I had a French WWOOFer with me over the summer who dried all my rose petals in separate colours – usually I just pick all the roses and dry them altogether. So, now I have a range of rose powders – from white through to the most intense red – and they smell divine. In the middle of winter, it is amazing to be able to grind up my rose petals and smell summer roses!
Tell us about some of the techniques involved in producing one of your products
My Skin Calming Oil is one of my most popular products as it so calming on eczema and sensitive skin. The process starts in late winter/early spring, when I sow the seeds for german chamomile and bright orange calendula plants. Over the following months, I plant these wonderful herbs and then when they are flowering, I start to harvest. Harvesting calendula is easy and fast but harvesting german chamomile is pretty slow and laborious. I hand pick each flower – it can take me an hour to harvest 30 grams (dried weight) of chamomile flowers. Then it’s off to the drying shed. Once the flowers are completely dry, then I store them.
To make the Skin Calming Oil, I infuse the calendula and chamomile flowers over a low heat with a few secret ingredients (from a family recipe passed down to me over the ages – just kidding), strain and bottle the oil. The strength to this recipe is the freshness of the ingredients.
What inspires you?
Nature inspires me – being outside with my plants and observing them through the seasons.
Is there a philosophy behind your work?
My philosophy is intensely local, plant based, and sustainable. I only use herbs that I have grown myself in my products as I believe that if you are using herbs for their medicinal benefits, then you need to know where and how those herbs were grown. I am also passionate about using locally and sustainably grown ingredients wherever possible. I am excited about the increasing availability of locally grown plant oils such as rapeseed, hemp seed and sunflower which I am incorporating into my products.
Describe your creative process:
My creative process comes entirely from the plants. I love finding and growing new herbs and fragrant plants. Once they are growing and flowering, then I spend time smelling, tasting and generally researching and working with the plants. Last year, I started growing Roman chamomile and I fell in love with the fragrance of the flowers and the leaves – so utterly different from German chamomile. I dried the flowers and made a flower powder which is intoxicating! I love the fact that you can use powders such as Roman chamomile or peppermint in facial cleansers and masks and you don’t need to add any additional essential oils.
Describe your workspace
I have multiple workspaces – my garden, my drying shed and my work room. I also use the kitchen when I need to use the cook top – when I am making salves and deodorants. I use my workroom when I am working with my essential oils as my husband has developed a sensitivity to essential oils.
Your favourite feedback from a customer:
I get lots of great feedback, but this made me smile: “I bought your rose deodorant rub and love it! It smells lovely, so much so I smear a little extra in morning around my neck as it smells like perfume!”
What are you currently listening to?
I listen to lots of different audiobooks as I work in my garden – it makes the weeding go much faster.
Recommend an album:
The soundtrack from Big Little Lies.
What’s your favourite childhood book and why?
My favourite childhood book would have to the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. I was just fascinated with the idea of finding another world at the back of the wardrobe.
What are you reading now?
The Scentual Garden: Exploring the World of Botanical Fragrance by Ken Druse. This is an amazing plant book written by an avid plant person who is interested in the fragrance of a wide range of plants and trees. Unfortunately, I had to purchase this as an ebook and so I miss out on all the beautiful photos and pictures. I might just have to pay the postage from USA!
Who is your hero/heroine? Why?
My heroine is Rosemary Gladstar, a herbalist who has been teaching herbalism for decades. She formulated an amazing natural cream recipe in the 1980s which she freely gifted for everyone to use and it is the basis of my cream recipes. She was also the creator of Fire Cider, which is a potent blend of apple cider, horse radish root, garlic, and all sorts of other goodies. She also gifted this recipe freely to be used by everyone. Recently, a company trademarked “Fire Cider” and sent cease and desist letters to anyone else selling these products. Rosemary led a campaign against this and after a five-year battle, won the fight. A court ruled that Fire Cider is free from trademark restrictions and is officially considered a generic term, which means no one can own it! This is particularly important, because there is a growing trend for companies to try and control herbal plants and recipes that have been part of the common use for thousands of years.
A favourite quote:
To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow.
Tell us about your pets:
I have a small “bitser” dog called Bernie that manages to get into every photo I ever take of the garden and he absolutely needs to be included in every herbal garden tour. He is snuggled up next to me on the couch as I write this.
What would your advice be for those starting out in a crafty business?
My advice is to take your own path and stick to it. It can be quite competitive – so find a point of difference and work that. Follow the things that make you passionate – that keep you awake at night with excitement (oh that didn’t come out quite the way I wanted it to!). If you believe in what you are doing, then other people will as well.
Why do you think it’s important to buy handmade and/or locally made goods?
I think it is essential to buy local. Support the local growers and makers. Be more thoughtful about what and how you buy – buying local keeps the money in the local community, it keeps people making original, quality products that will last. It reduces air miles and packaging and rubbish in the dump.
What does it mean to you when someone buys your creations?
I feel joy every time someone buys something I have grown and made.
What was the last handmade item you bought and what attracted you to it?
I buy lots of handmade items as presents (I belong to a craft collective and it is very hard not to buy other people’s amazing creations!), but I bought the most amazing framed photo just for me. It is by Centuri Chan and I just love his work. This photo is called Out of the Blue and it is of the sea – it is all blues and greys and it is framed in a distressed blue frame. I saw it and I just fell in love with the colours and the ethereal mood of it.
What’s in store for the rest of 2020?
Over the winter I am creating a new fragrant garden which I am excited about. I already have my herbal garden, but there are many fragrant plants which unfortunately smell amazing but are toxic, and so don’t fit into my herbal garden.
Cathy has generously offered a luscious prize for one lucky Felt reader: a lovely box set of Tuahiwi Botanicals perfume oils, valued at $50 (see below) – and you get to choose the fragrances from Cathy’s range!
To be in to win this indulgent prize, leave us a comment telling us what you love about Cathy’s story and her products. The draw closes at 5pm Monday 17 August and is open to New Zealand residents only.